It doesn’t feel great for fans in Tampa or Calgary.
But the way the NHL playoffs are going right now is probably good for the NHL.
Higher seeds are struggling — or already eliminated — while teams that barely squeaked into the playoffs are suddenly finding themselves looking ahead to potentially long playoff runs.
The old idea that anything can happen once you’ve booked a spot in the NHL playoffs has never felt more true than it does this season.
The Flames, of course, are on the wrong end of that in their series with the Colorado Avalanche.
The Flames were the No. 1 seed who sailed through the regular season, while the Avs only qualified for the playoffs as the Western Conference’s second wild-card team.
That the Avalanche have so handily outplayed the Flames isn’t quite as shocking as the way the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning, but it’s close.
“Parity in the league is insanely tight,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “I’ve said it before, but it’s not necessarily where you finish. It’s how you’re playing at the end of the season and what your guys are willing to do to win.
“If you look at the (New York) Islanders series or the (Blue Jackets) series, it doesn’t matter who they roll over the boards, everyone’s playing the same way.”
Between the two teams who faced off at the Saddledome on Friday night, the Avalanche were obviously a little more enthusiastic to talk about how great it is that lower-seeded teams are doing so well in this year’s playoffs.
It’s a trend the Flames would surely love not to have been a part of.
But it goes well beyond what’s happened in Calgary and Denver this series.
Of the eight first-round playoff series this year, the Islanders were the only team that had the higher-seeding in their matchup who had won or were ahead in their series, prior to Friday’s action. But even then, heading into the playoffs, they weren’t even the odds-on favourite to win the series over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Even the Flames can recognize that the parity that’s on display around the NHL is probably good for the game.
“I think it’s great for the league,” said Flames centre Derek Ryan. “You never know this time of the year who is going to win or who is going to come out on top, whether it’s a one-seed or the second wild-card.
“You guys (in the media) talk about it all the time — the parity in the league — and that just shows it right there.”
It isn’t exactly news that teams that barely qualify for the playoffs are capable of going on long runs in the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup as an eight-seed back in 2012, after all, and the Nashville Predators were the last team to qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference two years ago and made it to the final, too.
“I think if you look at any of the other major sports leagues, we probably have the most parity,” said Avs winger Alex Kerfoot. “I think it shows how tight teams are. You go through the regular season and there’s no easy games.
“It’s not like some other sports where the (NBA’s Golden State) Warriors are walking into an arena and they know they’re going to win … As good of a season as Tampa had, one of the best regular seasons of all-time and then losing in the first round, it just shows that hockey — in general, I think — there’s parity in the league. And in hockey, in general, underdogs have a better chance of winning.”
The fact that there’s such a long history of underdogs overcoming the odds and going on long runs doesn’t make it any less surprising when it happens.
It’s been a few days since the Lightning were eliminated by the Blue Jackets, and the shock hasn’t really worn off.
The way the Flames have struggled against the Avalanche is still a surprise after the way they played for most of the season.
It’s probably worth noting, though, that the Avs got incredibly hot coming down the stretch and won eight of their final 10 games — not including their meaningless regular-season finale.
They were never nearly as big underdogs as the Blue Jackets were against the Lightning.
“Everyone’s a bit shocked with what happened there with the way Tampa played in the regular season,” said Avs defenceman Tyson Barrie. “They were (head and shoulders) above everyone else. They were the best team.
“But you lose your game for a week and you’re done.”
Teams around the league are learning just how true that is.
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